Saturday, October 9, 2021

Songs You'll Only Listen to Once: Frank Sinatra, "L.A. Is My Lady"


By Curt Alliaume


I’m not sure this fits the category, since it’s not a dreadful song. But this is an example of an ill-conceived song that hasn’t aged well.

Back in 1984, Frank Sinatra was still touring and very occasionally recording music. He had gotten smart about making occasional albums after the first few released after his “retirement” in 1971 didn’t sell as much as you would think. Trilogy: Past, Present, and Future was a deservedly a big seller, and while She Shot Me Down wasn’t, it is a great album made for good reasons—Sinatra wanted to make something with one of his favorite arrangers, Gordon Jenkins, who was ill with ALS (Jenkins “Future” portion of Trilogy had gotten a lot of criticism, and Sinatra didn’t want that to be Jenkins’ final recorded work). Sinatra had worked with Quincy Jones a few times in the 1960s, and they had gotten along well. Since Jones was now the hottest music producer on the planet (thanks to Michael Jackson and Thriller) it made sense to give it another go. The original plan was for Sinatra to do a record with Lena Horne, who had just won a Grammy working with Quincy Jones, but that plan was dropped.

The end album result was a Sinatra solo, with primarily standards (and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”, which became a standard). But for the album’s centerpiece, they went in a different direction. “Theme From New York, New York” had become a top 40 hit four years before and was Sinatra’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1969’s “My Way”. Even after it fell off the charts, it became a surprise hit at parties and dances, usually as the last song of the evening, complete with a kick line. So I’m sure Jones said, “Hey, why not try it again for Los Angeles—and why can’t I get a piece of the action this time?”

“L.A. Is My Lady,” cowritten by Jones, his wife Peggy Lipton, and Sinatra's favorites Alan and Marilyn Bergman, was the result. With a synth line running throughout (surely one of the few times synthesizers were used on a Sinatra record), it doesn’t have the sound of “New York, New York,” but it has everything else, including the tempo shift/kick line section at the end.

The weirdest part of this song is the music video. In 1984, everybody made music videos to get them on MTV (there weren’t really any other outlets for them at the time; even VH1 hadn’t started up yet), but MTV mostly stuck with AOR/rock acts until Michael Jackson forced them to play black acts as well. Still, MTV didn’t want to play singers your parents listened to such as Sinatra. So the result was a Frank Sinatra video with very little Sinatra in it (I’m not sure that was a conscious decision on the part of the video director or Sinatra just declined to film anything new--he does appear in a few older clips). It does have an endless stream of cameos from people in the entertainment business at the time, as well as Sinatra buddies. I’ve managed to identify all but one of them (the running times correspond to the first appearance that person made in the video):


0:05 – David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, from Van Halen

0:53 – Donna Summer, singer

1:02 – Fernando Valenzuela, pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

1:26 – Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles

1:29 – unknown actor (this one is driving me crazy, so please send your ideas!) and Michael McDonald, singer

1:32 – Alex Haley, author, and Quincy Jones, music producer

1:34 – Dale Bozzio, Terry Bozzio, and (I think) Warren Cuccurullo, band members, Missing Persons

2:01 – James Ingram, singer

2:09 – Jilly Rizzo, restauranteur

2:15 – Dean Martin, actor/singer, and LaToya Jackson, singer/sister of Michael Jackson

2:22 – Nancy Sinatra, singer/daughter of Frank, with her two daughters AJ and Amanda, and Quincy Jones’ two daughters, Kidada (designer) and Rashida (actress)

3:06 – Jane Fonda, actress/workout entrepreneur, and Peggy Lipton, actress/wife of Quincy Jones

3:11 – Dyan Cannon, actress

3:22 – Joey Amalfitano, Los Angeles Dodgers coach, and Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodgers manager

3:39 – Clarence Williams III, actor (far right)


So no Ol’ Blue Eyes except in retrospective footage, but we get Missing Persons instead. Whee!

Anyway, the song became the title track for L.A. Is My Lady, which was released on Jones’ label Q Records. (Sinatra’s label normally was Reprise, which he’d sold off to Warner Brothers a few years after starting it.) “L.A. Is My Lady” didn’t become the hit everybody expected (it didn’t even make the Billboard Hot 100, although it did peak at #34 on the AC chart), and with the synthesizer dominating the arrangements it couldn't be duplicated easily in concert. (According to, Sinatra did use it pretty regularly between 1984 and 1986, but I think it was gone thereafter.) It’s available for download or streaming either on L.A. Is My Lady and the best-of Sinatra Sings Alan & Marilyn Bergman, and there are few live versions (with a notably different, small-combo jazz arrangement) for streaming or download as well.

(Cross posted to Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Superhits 1979, Week 48


By Curt Alliaume


Here come the ballads. And disco was changing into something different, and not better.


Barry Manilow, “Ships,” #9, 12/1/1979

First single from Manilow’s album One Voice, and this is an odd one: it was written by rocker Ian Hunter, who’d released it earlier in the year on his LP You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic. It was about Hunter’s relationship with his father (Manilow’s own father abandoned his family when Manilow was very young). Hardly the stuff of tender ballads, but they made it work here. From a design standpoint, One Voice was the last Manilow album to use that very 1970s logo font for his name on the album cover—presumably somebody at Arista finally wised up that it had gotten passé. This isn’t the greatest video, but at least it’s from that era.


Anne Murray, “Broken Hearted Me,” #12, 12/1/1979

Capitol Records had Murray in the studio as much as they could there for a few years; she wound up releasing four studio albums in a little over two years between 1978 and 1980. I’ll Always Love You was the parent album for “Broken Hearted Me” (which somewhat gave lie to the album title sentiment), and became Murray’s fourth platinum album in her native Canada (it only reached gold in the States). “Broken Hearted Me” was written by Randy Goodrum, who had also written her “You Needed Me” (plus Michael Johnson’s “Bluer Than Blue” and Gene Cotton’s “Before My Heart Finds Out” in 1978)—he would have a long string of writing credits into the 21st century on the pop, AC, and country charts.


Chris Thompson & Night, “If You Remember Me,” #17, 12/1/1979

It didn’t start out as a Night song. “If You Remember Me” is the main theme from The Champ, which starred Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, and Ricky Schroeder in a remake of the 1931 original. It was released as a Chris Thompson standalone single (and was originally listed as such on the Hot 100) a few weeks after Night’s second single, “Cold Wind Across My Heart,” the follow-up to their first hit “Hot Summer Nights.” But “Cold Wind Across My Heart” went nowhere, and when “If You Remember Me” made the top 40, someone at Planet Records decided it was now by Chris Thompson and Night—even though Billboard listed it otherwise, their eponymous album didn’t include the song, and it’s likely Thompson is the only band member on the song (it’s pretty heavily orchestrated; Night was, in theory anyway, a rock band). Anyway, it was added to later pressings of the album. EDIT: I originally claimed this isn’t available on Spotify; it is, but not under either Night or Chris Thompson & Night. It’s available on a Chris Thompson solo best of (albeit at a slightly slower speed than the regular release), and on The Champ soundtrack. Use “If You Remember Me” to search.



Blondie, “Dreaming,” #27, 12/1/1979

Blondie had such a strange Hot 100 chart history. Ten singles reached the chart (nine during their heyday, plus “Maria” in 1999), of which four made #1. Of the remaining six songs, none charted higher than #24. “Dreaming” was their first single off Eat to the Beat, another album that probably lost ground because of the crowded marketplace in 1979 (it peaked on Billboard’s album chart at #17, whereas Parallel Lines went to #6 and Autoamerican to #7; all three went platinum), and it’s pretty great: a typically dispassionate Deborah Harry vocal behind propulsive Clement Burke drumming. (From the lines notes from their Platinum Collection anthology: “Clem: I think I overplayed on the track. Everybody: You did!”)


Niteflyte, “If You Want It,” #37, 12/1/1979

As disco became a dirty word for Top 40 programmers in late 1979, smooth R&B started to gain some traction. Niteflyte was a two-person outfit, with percussionist Howard Johnson and guitarist Sandy Torano, that did surprisingly well on the pop chart with this song, which peaked on the Billboard R&B chart at #21. It was their one pop hit; they had two songs make the lower reaches of the R&B charts before breaking up in the early 1980s. Johnson would later embark on a solo career, making #6 on the R&B chart and #1 on the dance chart with “So Fine.”


Melissa Manchester, “Pretty Girls,” #39, 12/1/1979

I’m surprised Clive Davis signed off on this song being the first single from Manchester’s 1979 LP Melissa Manchester; Davis loves the ballads and this is a soft disco/rock track. “Pretty Girls” was written by Canadian singer/songwriter Lisa Dal Bello while she was still a teenager, reaching #84 on the Canadian chart, with a slightly more disco arrangement. (Given Dal Bello was 20 years old when the song came out, it’s remarkably aware and cynical about how awful men can be to young women.) Anyway, Manchester’s version managed to barely scrape into the top 40, and considering it’s not on most of her anthologies, I guess Arista changed its mind (it is on The Essential Melissa Manchester-The Arista Years, which was assembled by Sony after they took over Arista). Dal Bello would provide vocals on Boz Scaggs’ 1981 hit “Miss Sun,” and then reinvented herself as an alternative rocker in the late 1980s under the moniker Dalbello.


Ronnie Milsap, “Get It Up,” #43, 12/1/1979

Yes, you read the song title right—somebody at RCA Records either fell asleep at the switch or decided to see what they could get away with. The song is actually a dance track, which didn’t really fit Milsap’s style, and was the B-side of “In No Time at All,” which made #6 on the Billboard country chart. (Milsap had 48 top 10 country hits between 1974 and 1991—actually, none of them peaked below #6. How does anybody not write about that?) RCA decided to offer “Get It Up” to pop stations, and obviously some of them played it. The title terminology is used so vaguely in the song it would seem everybody involved knew exactly what they were talking about, but who knows? Not available on any of his greatest hits sets; you’ll have to listen to it on the original album, Images.


England Dan & John Ford Coley, “What Can I Do With This Broken Heart,” #50, 12/1/1979

Light disco by white acts was certainly a thing for a little while, wasn’t it? “What Can I Do With This Broken Heart” was either a very late follow-up to “Love Is the Answer” (which hit #10 for the duo in late May; both songs are on their studio album Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive) or an early release from their Best of England Dan and John Ford Coley. In either case, radio programmers showed they really weren’t interested in the pair’s music except for the ballads. Disco arranger Gene Page handled the strings on this track; among the other players were Lee Ritenour, Wah Wah Watson, and Richie Zito on guitar (they needed three guitarists?) plus Bill Payne and Michael Boddicker (not the Baltimore Orioles pitcher) on keyboards.


Nature’s Divine, “I Just Can’t Control Myself,” #65, 12/1/1979

One-hit R&B wonder act from—I’m not even sure. (According to the liner notes, their self-titled album was recorded in Chicago, engineered in Detroit, and remixed in New York.) Produced by Michael Stokes, who also wrote or cowrote most of the songs; Lynn Smith and Robert Carter shared lead vocals. Released by Infinity Records, a subsidiary of MCA, which pulled the plug on the label a few weeks before this song peaked—and if nobody was working your music at a record label, that pretty much brought things to a stop. Infinity had a fairly big hit with Spyro Gyra’s Morning Dance album earlier in the year, but Billboard noted they also distributed an album by Pope John Paul II, which turned out to be a surprising flop and might have been the final straw. Nature’s Divine work isn’t available anywhere anymore except YouTube.




The Headboys, “The Shape of Things to Come,” #67, 12/1/1979

Another one-hit wonder band, although this was a power pop/new wave quintet from Edinburgh, Scotland. Originally starting under the name Badger, The Headboys recorded their first album for RSO Records in 1979, and “The Shape of Things to Come” emerged as their one hit, making #45 in the UK (and earning them an appearance on Top of the Pops), #89 in Australia, and #17 in the Netherlands. But that was it—none of the other singles from their first album charted anywhere, and a second album was recorded but remained unreleased until 2010 (when it emerged as The Lost Album). Of course, that’s the album that you can now download or play on Spotify, The Headboys and “The Shape of Things to Come” are unavailable anywhere except YouTube.




Maxine Nightingale, “(Bringing Out) the Girl in Me,” #73, 12/1/1979

Final Hot 100 chart hit for Nightingale, who had two major top 10 hits in the 1970s in “Right Back Where We Started From” and “Lead Me On.” It’s more uptempo than “Lead Me On”—more along the lines of the light disco mentioned previously. Nightingale landed one more hit on the R&B chart in 1982 with “Turn to Me,” a duet with Motown veteran Jimmy Ruffin (the guy who sang “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” solo; the guy who sang lead for The Temptations is his brother David). She now mostly performs on the oldies circuit.


The Shoes, “Too Late,” #75, 12/1/1979

Power pop band from Zion, Illinois that issued their first few albums themselves as far back as 1974. By 1979 they’d gotten a contract with Elektra Records, which released Present Tense, the parent album for “Too Late.” It’s somewhat similar to The Records’ “Starry Eyes,” and an example of what Top 40 stations should have been playing in that era. Amazingly, the band is still together—brothers Jeff and John Murphy, along with Gary Klebe, handled guitars, bass, and the songwriting and vocals; they’ve had several drummers over the years. They now run their own label, which has also included such bands as Material Issue and Local H.


Other Superhits 1979 entries you may enjoy:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14
Week 15
Week 16
Week 17
Week 18
Week 19
Week 20
Week 21
Week 22
Week 23
Week 24
Weeks 25 and 26
Week 27
Week 28
Week 29
Weeks 30 and 31
Week 32
Week 33
Week 34
Week 35
Week 36
Weeks 37 and 38
Week 39
Week 40
Week 41
Weeks 42 and 43
Week 44
Week 45
Week 46
Week 47


Crossposted from Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.